• Vie. Jul 12th, 2024

-> Noticias de futbol internacional

Southgate in Southgate – He turned a nation on, now it turns on him

Southgate in Southgate – He turned a nation on, now it turns on him

For two solid minutes, a man is doing circuits of the pub on an electric scooter. As he whirrs past the pool table and banks sharply to his right, shaving the pillar that takes him into the main bar, he mimics the sound of rubber tyres screaming for mercy. Nobody asks why and nobody intervenes, but for a little while this incongruous, hazardous, indoor Grand Prix offers a distraction and, perhaps because of that, nobody complains, either.


They have made an effort at the Kings Gate — “Premium Brands, Great Value, All the Great Sporting Action,” — with England pennants hanging from the ceiling and the bar staff wearing white. There are plenty of screens and the volume is turned up to minor ear damage, so we can all hear as well as see how bad things are. A young girl in full three lions strip is kicking a ball around, dodging the scooter, but if this implies joviality, the implication is a lie.

This is a game to get drunk to, much in the way you might drink to obliterate the futility of ever having experienced living. Wearing shorts and baseball cap, nursing two inches of lager in a Carlsberg glass, Jason looks tempted. Whatever emotion lies one dimension beyond despair, he appears to have found it. “We are so f****** bad,” says Jason, who is 25 and works in retail. “I’m sick of it. We’ve got unbelievable players. It’s all on Southgate. There’s no excuse for this s***.”

The tube station was renamed in 2018 (Neil P. Mockford/Getty Images)

Tuesday June 25 2024 and England 0 Slovenia 0 is not a great advert for falling in love. It is a strong advert for falling asleep. In Cologne, the team toils once again, groping for something which resembles themselves, but it is an echo of a discordant, broken England tumbling down the decades. In Cologne, jeers and plastic cups rain down on the decent man who not too long ago, was serenaded as “the one”.


He turned us on, the song went. Now we turn on him, as it didn’t. Whole Again is now a hole, again.

In Southgate, half-empty pubs remain half-engaged. Enthusiasm is rationed. Maybe not forever, because as Alan Shearer, who knows exactly how representing England can press down like an anchor on the chest, says “It just takes one brilliant performance and the nation will get excited,” and this was a game which carried limited jeopardy with it. It was neither pub-filler not crowd-pleaser. But Shearer adds a caveat. “They’re going to have to hurry up,” he says.

We came to Southgate to take the temperature, for a bit of colour. The first bit was easy: hot. The second bit was sad: grey.

In 2018, England reached the World Cup semi-finals in Russia. For once, this was counter to expectations — which traditionally could be summarised as turbo-bulls*** — and for once England delivered. The team was young and inexperienced, but instead of shutting down and closing off, they unfurled like a flower, revealing themselves. On the pitch, they soared. For once, England were pretty good.

After Brexit and division, the country briefly felt like a younger, happier, more unified place. Southgate was the figurehead, a reluctant leader, but meticulous and upright and utterly lacking in side. We bought into it; the youth, the lack of crushing fear, the unicorns they rode in the hotel swimming pool, the smiles, the improbable waistcoat. There was even a victory on penalties, Southgate making history of his difficult history. It was new and it was different.

In recognition of a “great performance,” which “brought people of all ages together in celebration,” someone at Transport for London came up with the notion of rebranding all the signage at Southgate station for 48 hours. It was now Gareth Southgate, the £10,000 cost mostly paid for by Visa, a sponsor. As marketing stunts go (Paris did something similar for the France team), it wasn’t bad. It caught the zeitgeist.

Six years on, it doesn’t feel quite so new and different. Some of the bulls*** has come flowing, stenching back. This is partially based on simple maths; Southgate is eight years into the job and England being good is no longer quite good enough. They followed up Russia with a run to the final in Euro 2020 — losing, sigh, to Italy on penalties, sigh — and then went out in the quarter-finals at the last World Cup. We won’t bother mentioning how. Yearning for more is human nature.


England rose under Southgate but the summit he has led them towards is harsh and unforgiving. “We’ve been to a final, we’ve been to a semi-final and we all believe we have the best team,” Shearer says. “We’ve got the best player in England in Phil Foden, we’ve got the best player in Spain in Jude Bellingham and the best player in Germany in Harry Kane, so we all feel as if we should be kicking on.” In these circumstances, innocence withers.

After Slovenia, Southgate speaks about making England “fun again,” and that “we have got to be very, very careful that it stays that way”. This is an unbeaten side which topped its group but the narrative around the head coach is “creating an unusual environment to operate in,” he says. “I’ve not seen any other team qualify and receive similar.” All fair, except that England are nodding towards the bad old days, disjointed, heavy-limbed, less than the sum of their parts.

In one respect, we still can’t get enough. Dear England, the brilliant play named after the beautiful, stirring open letter Southgate wrote to a country still reeling from the pandemic in 2021, has won Olivier Awards and after a blockbuster West End run is coming back to the National Theatre next year. It is to be turned into a four-part BBC television series. In this arena, over the bigger picture, Southgate’s humanity and empathy still shines and so it should.

Joseph Fiennes, playing Southgate, and the rest of the cast of “Dear England” (Nicky J Sims/Getty Images)

The play features Dr Pippa Grange, the psychologist who worked the Football Association until 2019. In her book, Fear Less: How to Win at Life Without Losing Yourself, she writes: “Success comes from trying, extending yourself and taking risks, which means that inevitably, you will fail along the way. And you will fail often. We aren’t taught this. The message we get is that failing or losing equals not being good enough as a human being. We think if we fail, we are worth less. This is where fear comes in and crowds your mind.”

Isn’t this what Denmark and Slovenia feel like? Isn’t this what England have become again? Is it fun?

We have seen how this story (usually) ends with England and their managers. Nobody rides off into the sunset on the back of a unicorn.

Southgate the man and Southgate the manor have a very loose and tangential connection, barring the obvious, one which he talks about on an old clip you can still find on YouTube. He was a player at Aston Villa back then and it is a funny little feature about nicknames. Team-mates from the time explain they call him “Gate” which is pretty obvious or “Beak” because of his prominent nose, but the strangest moniker comes courtesy of John Gregory, the manager.


“I started calling him Harry when he came because there’s a place in London, a district, called Enfield and Southgate,” Gregory says. “It’s a constituency in London. And obviously, Enfield becomes Harry Enfield (the British comedian and actor). And we haven’t got a Harry so I thought it was logical. We’d better have a Harry in the club. So he gets called Harry, H.” Southgate admits “It’s a weird and wonderful one.”

In retrospect, the jollity feels slightly forced. In his book Woody and Nord, written with his old friend Andy Woodman in 2003, Southgate is catty about Gregory. “John rose without a trace and has had a similar fall,” he says. “They say if you don’t have something good to say about someone, better to say nothing. Ideally, I should stop now. But four years is a long time in a football career and they were two years too many for John and I.”

He goes on, still referring to Gregory, but making a wider point, too: “At first you support the manager, then you lose respect for him and, finally, you end up disliking him. It is a cycle not uncommon in the world of football.”

And there he stands inside Cologne Stadium, final whistle gone, arms aloft in applause, contempt in return, plastic glasses dotted in front of him, stale beer kissing his feet.

Fan out from the Underground station and Southgate is sweltering. There are busy shopping streets, leafy suburban roads, views, closes and cul-de-sacs. Around Grovelands Park, with its pond and pitch-and-putt course, and fringed by big semi-detached house there is little sign that a tournament is in progress, that an England game is a couple of hours away. Semi-detached is how it feels; there is no bunting or posters or shirts on backs.

The name is everywhere: Southgate Smiles (a dentist) nestles beside Southgate Social. Neither will be appropriate later. In Southgate Food & Wine there is not a pickle juice to be had. The Southgate Club, advertising gigs by The Beached Boys and a “Rockin’ at the Southgate” night with DJ Bill Guntrip, would, for the purposes of a hugely contrived article about England, be a useful starting point to ask about Gareth, but it is members only and the door is locked.

The Southgate Club in north London (George Caulkin/The Athletic)

Chase Side is thrumming with traffic and pedestrians. It could be anywhere and everywhere. There is a Greggs and a KFC (“Hello Southgate, What’s Cluckin’?”), a WH Smith, a Pizza Express and a big Asda. A St George’s Cross flaps above the entrance of Tesco Express, but it hardly screeches fever.

The New Crown pub is not bouncing; not yet and, as it turns out, not ever. Not tonight. The space is big, the TVs are small and the crowd is closer to the latter than the former. There is one lad in a long-sleeved England shirt — No 6, red, the World Cup 1966 — there are Euro 2024 pennants tacked to the wall, but the football feels like something that is happening and you can take it or leave it. Plenty are leaving it. There is no discernible ripple when the game starts let alone a roar.


Steve, who is 44 and works for a bank, is here with his son, Adam, a student. Both support Tottenham Hotpsur and live nearby.

Southgate the coach, “has run his race,” Steve says. “That’s my fear. I like him as a bloke and he’s done an OK job, but we should be doing better now. It feels like he’s holding the team back. It feels tired. Where’s the adventure, the spark?”

A fella at the next table is listening and chips in. “If England are going to win anything, we have to get rid of the manager,” he says.

Adam does not agree. He is younger and perhaps less haunted by England’s old ghosts, less weighed down than the rest of us. He admires the way Southgate speaks and holds himself, how he has picked his way through difficult moments, how he has given England hope, even if he would like to have seen more of Cole Palmer and Anthony Gordon.

Football fever is not exactly sweeping through Southgate this time (George Caulkin/The Athletic)

But now there are 15 minutes on the clock and the fella beside us is saying, “This is so f****** boring,” and without wishing to come over all Gary Lineker, the fella is not wholly wrong. The fella is called Pete and comes from Liverpool and ends every sentence with “lad”. He wants England to win but “won’t be that bothered,” if we lose.

And in some ways, this kind of feels relevant here, relevant now. England’s lethargy is Southgate’s apathy.

The first-half stretches on and soon Adam is saying “yeah, it’s not great is it?”

After an interlude at The Kings Gate — the electronic scooter and Jason’s quiet, profound dismay — we return to The New Crown for the last kickings of another haphazard, unsatisfactory match.

There has not been much to talk about, to write about. Southgate (the manager) has made changes and England are improving, but it is not saying a lot. Steve and Adam have gone. Pete is AWOL. The lad in the long-sleeved England shirt is here, but sitting outside and chatting with his mates, away from the screens.

The tournament is still young but England make it feel old and although, as Shearer points out, nobody else apart from Spain has really touched brilliance, the “one little spark,” he talks about feels distant. So, too, does the wonder of 2018. Perhaps it will look and feel different in the morning, but dusk is coming outside the tube station, where the signage remains resolutely unchanged.

(Top photo: Southgate in Cologne — and the mood was no better in north London. Getty Images/George Caulkin)